Left foot forward for Spain
Question: What do a Cesc Fabregas assist, a David Villa pull-back, an Albert Riera cross, a combination between Riera and Joan Capdevila, a Fernando Torres cross and another cross from Capdevila all have in common?
Quality left-sided players have traditionally been a scarce commodity in Spanish football, which makes the fact that over 40 per cent of La Roja's attacks have come down the left flank all the more surprising.
"Really? I didn't know that," a smiling Capdevila tells FIFA.com when the statistic is put to him. "I'd never given it any thought." Always willing to get forward and put in dangerous centres, the Villarreal left-back has been one of Spain's outstanding performers in South Africa so far and it was from his pinpoint cross that David Villa managed to end Iraq's stubborn resistance on Wednesday.
"Well, that doesn't really matter," adds the disarmingly modest Capdevila, a symbol of the team spirit that is driving Spain to ever-greater heights. "What's important is that the goals go in. It doesn't matter where they come from."
Yet, as the New Zealand match showed, the Spanish heavyweights certainly seem to be leading with the left at the moment, with all five goals originating from that side of the pitch. And while Riera and Capdevila were tormenting the Kiwi rearguard by constantly switching positions, the metronomic Sergio Ramos was left to plough a lonely furrow on the other flank, much in the style of a Brazilian full-back. In the midfield, meanwhile, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas succumbed to their natural tendency to play through the middle rather than cover the right side, which in theory was their brief at the start of the game.
Stubborn resistance breached
Having seen what Spain's vaunted attack was capable of, Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic sought to neutralise it by putting up a defensive wall for their meeting on Wednesday. The Serb's aim was clear: to keep the score down and increase his side's chances of going through to the semi-finals on goal difference. And the tactic paid off, with the finely tuned Spanish machine claiming the narrowest of wins.
"Iraq played with a lot of dignity and intelligence," said an impressed Del Bosque afterwards. "As a team they are aware of their limitations and they made it exceptionally difficult for us. We tried everything. We tried to play down the flanks, through the middle and shoot from distance."
When the Spanish goal eventually materialised it came, almost inevitably, from the left flank, though as the match statistics reveal, out of their 41 attacks against Iraq, Spain launched 11 down the right and 11 down the left.
"It's just a coincidence," chuckles Santi Cazorla, on the left-sided theory. "We make chances down the right too. Every team has things they need to work on but I don't think this is a problem at all. We've got a great squad and things are going well for us right now."
The versatile Villarreal midfielder only made it to South Africa after recovering in record time from a serious leg break suffered in April. Having started against the Iraqis, he could well play a part against the tournament hosts in Spain's final group match, a game that will provide another opportunity to assess whether the European champions really do lean to the left.